Death Comes to Aleppo

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Fatemah, said: “We are sure the army is capturing us now. We will see each other another day dear world. Bye.- Fatemah #Aleppo.”

We read the headline: Young Syrian girl’s twitter account deleted as government army moves in… we read of another recent incident in which a family of six, whom medics claim suffocated to death because the barrel bomb had been laced with chlorine gas. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011. Now, in the sixth year of war, 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance within the country. Among those escaping the conflict, the majority have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile about one million have requested asylum to Europe. Germany, with more than 300,000 cumulated applications, and Sweden with 100,000, are EU’s top receiving countries.

My question: Where is the outrage, the protest for the destruction and ruination of a whole nation at the hands of a dictator? How has the supposed Free World come to the point that it has allowed such atrocities in its midst without doing anything other than reprimands and noncommittal acts of humanitarian aide.

An international statute signed in Rome in 1998 expanded the CCPG’s definition of genocide and applied it to times of both war and peace. The statute also established the International Criminal Court (ICC), which began sittings in 2002 at The Hague (without the participation of the U.S., China or Russia).

One must go back to the Armenian genocide to discover such atrocities, not to mention the holocaust. In 1915, leaders of the Turkish government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Though reports vary, most sources agree that there were about 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the time of the massacre. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, some 1.5 million of Turkey’s Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country. Today, most historians call this event a genocide–a premeditated and systematic campaign to exterminate an entire people. However, the Turkish government does not acknowledge the enormity or scope of these events. Despite pressure from Armenians and social justice advocates throughout the world, it is still illegal in Turkey to talk about what happened to Armenians during this era.

More recent atrocities have been in the 1990’s.

In 1992, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia, and Bosnian Serb leaders targeted both Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croatian civilians for atrocious crimes resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 people by 1995. In 1993, the U.N. Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, in the Netherlands; it was the first international tribunal since Nuremburg and the first to have a mandate to prosecute the crime of genocide.

From April to mid-July 1994, members of the Hutu majority in Rwanda murdered some 500,000 to 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, with horrifying brutality and speed. As with the former Yugoslavia, the international community did little to stop the crimes while they were occurring, but that fall the U.N. expanded the mandate of the ICTY to include the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Tanzania. The Yugoslav and Rwandan tribunals helped clarify exactly what types of actions could be classified as genocidal, as well as how criminal responsibility for these actions should be established. In 1998, the ICTR set the important precedent that systematic rape is in fact a crime of genocide; it also handed down the first conviction for genocide after a trial, that of the mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba.

In August a group of concerned academics, legal, humanitarian and media professionals, condemned the Syrian government’s grotesque massacre in its aerial bombardment of a well-known and busy market in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Sunday 16 August 2015. As we write the killing continues. They called on the UK Government to act, saying:

Such utter contempt for international conventions by a so-called state actor reaffirms, if any further evidence were needed, that the Syrian government long ago relinquished any claim to legitimacy or sovereign power and should be expelled from the UN altogether. The UN must urgently consider carrying out its chronically underfunded humanitarian work in Syria without having to pander to Bashar al-Assad’s security forces via the ministry of the interior.

While Russia said on Monday that it would start talks with the United States this week on a deal for holdout insurgents to leave, and that any who refused would be regarded as terrorists subject to deadly assault.

There was no immediate comment from the United States on the Russia announcement, conveyed by Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov at a news conference in Moscow. But such an agreement with the United States, which has supported some of the insurgents ensconced in Aleppo, would appear to constitute a shift in American policy.

The lack of Leadership in Washington, D.C. to act or even protrude into the affair as one commentator suggests: “Policy inconsistencies, intermittent support for the rebels, confused messaging, and the absence of strong international leadership have contributed to this protracted conflict and allowed space for regional and international actors to rip the country apart.” Continuing:

When it first became clear that the conflict and dysfunction in Syria and Iraq helped to produce a group like the Islamic State, a transnational threat, Washington quickly insulated that threat from the Syrian conflict and dealt with it through a counterterrorism lens. Today, it is poised to repeat the same mistake — at everyone’s peril.

And the opposition is just as culpable in the atrocities and ruination.

According to the source, hundreds of Eastern Aleppo residents took to the streets to protest the radical policies of the groups that control this part of the Syrian city, but the militants shot at the protesters, killing a number of people, wounding tens more and arresting some others on suspicion of being linked to the government forces. Over recent months, Aleppo has been a major battleground in Syria, engaging government forces, jihadists, and numerous opposition groups. Militant-held eastern Aleppo is encircled by government forces and the fighting has affected thousands of civilians still trapped in the city.

As LA Times reports that in 2011, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, a mild-mannered diplomat named Robert S. Ford, became the face of American support for the Arab Spring when he boldly visited opponents to the brutal regime of Bashar Assad in the northern city of Hama. In 2014, Ford quit, saying he could not defend the Obama administration’s inconstant support for Syrian rebels. “More hesitation … [will] simply hasten the day when American forces have to intervene against Al Qaeda in Syria,” he warned. Now, a year later, Ford’s warning has come true. U.S. warplanes bomb jihadists in Syria week after week. Northern Syria has become a base for both Islamic State, which invaded Iraq last year, and an Al Qaeda franchise that trains European terrorists.

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies gives seven theories for U.S. Foreign Policy failures to the Council on Foreign Affairs. As another article commenting on failed leadership and foreign policy from the U.S.: “Insufficient support for the moderate opposition from the beginning of the crisis has also contributed to the rise of extremist groups who have ended up not only threatening Syria’s moderates, but also upstaging them, so that for the uninformed outside observer – such as many US citizens – Syria seems to have two choices: either Assad or ‘Islamist extremists’.”

The only meagre protests on the International scene were the trite Face Book movements. Back in April a movement quickly gained momentum as many Syrian and international Facebook users changed their profile pictures to a red square on Friday in support of the page. A Twitter hashtag – #AleppoisBurning – was also created. Within 24 hours of creating the event, some 5,000 people had expressed interest in attending. By Saturday morning, dozens of similar, location-specific pages had sprung up in cities across the world, including New York City, Brussels and Paris.

Yet, living here in the U.S. I keep asking myself: Where are the mass protests of youth, campuses, radical musicians, artists, thinkers, etc.? Having grown up in the sixties and participated in the radical underground movements that spawned protest against Viet Nam I wonder at the lack of commitment in the youth of America. I’m not speaking to the indigenous peoples who have recently aligned against the Corporate and Government violence against their lands. I speak to the power of revolt in a less than empowered youth who with their privilege seem to feed of the media frenzy of anonymity on the FB, Twitter, Linked in, etc. where commitment is only a buzz word and a sound byte rather than a real physical and substantial action of flesh and blood.

In my own mind I imagine that if the International community of actual citizens of the various free world nations of EU, America, Middle-East, India, Far East, etc. would have risen up against both Assad and the Militants this could’ve been solved years ago. But now that the worst case scenarios have totaled a city and a country at the hands of both its own government and militants one imagines the devastation of the world to come. One imagines as we blindly do nothing about the climaterilogical time-clock ticking away toward eventual collapse of the environmental systems that the people of that era, whether in decades or hundreds of years will look back on our time and wonder why we sat by and did nothing.

My heart goes out to the people of Syria both at home and in exile, and yet I wonder that even my meagre post is nothing more than a wisp in the winds of nothingness. Like many things I write, it may have no real impact, or that it even touches anyone’s lives; nor does it matter that it is not about me, that it is about a problem of our world at large, that is not even completely about Syria even, but rather about the world we are living in now through fear, terror, and trepidation. Have we allowed ourselves to become so complacent and narcissistic that most of what we say has become mere bits of self-congratulatory moralism and normative data in a labyrinth of self-edifying duplicity? The electronic void absorbs everything and feeds the echo chambers with our own self-satisfied deliveries and messages, as if they were something substantial and real. Their not. We are for better or worse no better than the empty signs that repeat themselves to infinity in this false infinity we once thought would provide us freedom and communication. ( I know I shouldn’t be so dark, but dammit the world hurts!)

Sadly things will go on as Vonnegut used to espouse, “go on, as they must go on… until nothing does.” When I think of the bitter last years of Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and his marked passage into a darker nihilism and pessimism because of his realization that humans are a duped species who do not give a shit about each other accept in disguise of virtuous self-narcissism.  In the last years of his life Twain would devote himself to the young. Twain formed a club in 1906 for girls he viewed as surrogate granddaughters, the Angel Fish and Aquarium Club. The dozen or so members ranged in age from 10 to 16. Twain exchanged letters with his “Angel Fish” girls and invited them to concerts and the theatre and to play games. Twain wrote in 1908 that the club was his “life’s chief delight”. In 1907, Twain met Dorothy Quick (then aged 11) on a transatlantic crossing, beginning “a friendship that was to last until the very day of his death”.

In the end this post was instigated by the knowledge that I may never know the fate of a young girl named Bana in Syria who once shared her bright life on this light bearing device. That saddens me. I almost want to start up Twain’s Angel Fish and Aquarium Club again! But this time for all those young daughters of Syrians both at home and in exile, a remembrance of their dark days and pain.

 

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